My mother never bought the bench expecting someone would sit on it. But she and my brother spent an afternoon setting it up, laying a stone for someone to rest their feet on, planting flowers around it. She would see the arrangement every time she left the house and came home. I think that's all she wanted.
Long after the "circle parties" had stopped on our street, they continued at full blast a block over. I always assumed the neighborly spirit over there had something to do with the bench sitting proudly in their cul-de-sac's island. Give people a place to sit, I decided, and they will become friends.
Two houses have sold on our street in as many weeks, and three more are for sale a block away. Dinner-table conversation has shifted from "how much did they get?" to a wary "who's moving in?" Ten years is a long time to spend living fifty feet from someone you barely speak to, but it's better than new people you won't ever speak to. My brother and I go for bike rides in the evenings, down the newly-laid trails and roundabouts on Fairland Road to the park and back. I forgot that people live in this neighborhood, and that there are still enough families and enough kids to show up twenty and thirty deep to the swing sets, the basketball courts, to empty fields that depending on the day hold soccer goals or cricket pitches.
Our next-door neighbors have been running a garage out of their house since before I left for college. It is the scourge of the homeowners' association, of which my mother is a board member, and she has few kind words for them. We estimate there are fifteen people living there, a sprawling, extended immigrant family, kids going to and from school, grandparents and uncles occasionally sitting on the front steps.
But I was looking through my window yesterday, and I saw one of my neighbors emerge from the garage, hands greasy, and take a seat on the bench. He lit a cigarette. When he got up, he returned a minute later with a watering can. He watered the flowers. And then he went back to work.
I wonder if we'll start talking to them soon. They've only been here four years, but I think that's good enough.